The Iranian Football Federation was launched in Persia in 1920, but it only reached the most important stage at the 1978 World Cup.
A year later, the Iranian Revolution took place and Iranian football regressed under the new regime.
Nonetheless, at its core, the depths of Iran’s national team are rooted in the Persian kingdom – not the Islamic regime that has ruled the country since 1979.
Rooted in Persia
In 1926, during the Pahlavi Royal House founded by Reza Shah, the Imperial State of Persia created its first national team nicknamed “Tehran XI” – a merger of players from two prototypical football clubs: Tehran FC and Armenian SC .
The latter, a predecessor of “Ararat Tehran” – an Iranian club that requires players to have Armenian lineage. Its name, “Ararat”, refers to the biblical mountain where Noah’s ark arrived.
Between 1926 and 1929, Persia’s Tehran XI played seven matches against the Soviet Union, earning them a below-par record of 0-1-6.
In 1935, Reza Shah left the nickname Persia and declared the “land of the Aryans” as Iran.
After World War II, the Iranian federation became a member of FIFA in 1948.
However, since international football came to a halt due to a global cataclysm, a whole generation of Iranians have been unable to participate in major tournaments.
Therefore, from 1950 to 1970, the Kingdom of Iran did not participate in the World Cup qualifiers. However, this era gave birth to neophytes who discovered their latent talent. Soon, the Kingdom of Iran became three times champion.
Iranian Cheetahs – 3x Asian Champions
From 1968 to 1976, USA-backed Iran held three AFC Asian Cup championships. Their team dubbed the “Iranian cheetahs” – a tribute to the last remnant of an endangered species. During that hat-trick, the Cheetahs were led by French Iranian midfielder Parviz Ghelichkhani.
However, in 1977, after 14 goals and 66 appearances, Parviz was forced by the Iranian monarchy to step down from international duties for political reasons.
This political target saw Parviz imprisoned for two months in 1972 and was eventually kicked out of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
Nonetheless, Parviz put up a stellar performance, catching the attention of the San Jose Earthquakes. In 1978, he made his swansong with 16 appearances for the Bay Area outfit, donning his iconic No. 5 jersey for The Goonies.
Despite his absence at Argentina 1978, Parviz passed the torch to a trio: late goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi, Persepolis winger Ali Parvin and ‘Crown FC’ number 10 – Hassan Rowshan. Together, Iran were determined to make a name for themselves on the big football stage.
1978 World Cup
At the 1978 World Cup, Iran donned Adidas kits and “Copa Mundial” kangaroo leather cleats. Armed with the best equipment, the “Cheetahs” have drawn tough opponents into their group: the Netherlands, Scotland and Peru.
On Matchday 1, Rob Rensenbrink’s hat trick took the Dutch to a 3-0 shutout, but Team Melli didn’t lose momentum. The Cheetahs embarked on a match against a formidable Scotland.
Unfortunately, in this match, the Iranian Armenian defender, Andranik Eskandarian, conceded his own goal in the penultimate minute of the first half. Nevertheless, Iran fought back in the 61st minute when late midfielder Iraj Danaeifard equalized 1-1.
After the match ended in a draw, football fanatics in the ecstatic Iranian kingdom were immersed in excitement that their national team had won their first World Cup goal, not to mention their first point in the stage. groups.
As a result, Iranian players have become overconfident. All signs pointed to matchday three – the winner would get a pass to the next round. Unfortunately, Iran underestimated their opponent, a tactical and technical Peru.
Iran knew that the game against Peru was an “unavoidable” situation. Therefore, they entered the game with a relentless attack that exposed their defense. As a result, Peru capitalize on breakaways and dead balls, proving the winner, 4-1. But the Melli team left the pitch at the Mario Kempes stadium in Córdoba, knowing they would find a delighted fanbase back home.
Iranian players in American football
In 1978, the NASL – the former American Football League – equaled MLS, and the New York Cosmos was its most prominent team. In the end, it worked for Andy Eskandarian. Despite conceding an ‘own goal’ against Scotland and being benched against Peru, the defender was signed by Cosmos.
Additionally, from 2003 to 2010, his New Jersey-born son scored thirty goals in 125 appearances for five MLS teams. A tenure that began with DC United and ended with LA Galaxy. The University of Virginia alum currently works in MLS player development.
Ultimately, Iranian Frenchman Parviz Ghelichkhani and Iranian Armenian Andy Eskandarian left their bi-coastal mark on American football. The former retired at San Jose, while the latter played center back in 142 appearances for New York.
Iran’s contribution to Asian football
In the 1970s, Iranian football showed signs of a promising future. The team’s players were developing their technical abilities. But, like many nations, Iran’s players have mastered the rudiments by emulating Johan Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ and Italy’s ‘Door-Bolt’ defence.
From 1972 to 1979, Federation President Kambiz Atabay led the Iranian national team as winners of the 1974 Asian Games and the 1976 Asian Cup. Additionally, Iran qualified for the 1976 Olympics and the 1978 World Cup under his leadership. Without forgetting that Kambiz was president of the AFC throughout his work. Historically, his tenure has been the most successful of the presidents of the Iranian federation.
Unfortunately, due to Iran’s Islamic hijacking, Kambiz Atabay’s tenure ended on February 17, 1979 – six days after the Shah was overthrown. As a result, Iranian football collapsed. Despite placing third in the 1980 Asian Cup, Iran withdrew from the Spain World Cup in 1982. Additionally, Iran placed fourth in the edition 1984 Asian Cup. However, they were suspended from the Mexico 1986 World Cup due to a turf war with Iraq.
A quest for redemption
Under the United States-backed Kingdom of Iran, one can only wonder wistfully how far Iranian football might have evolved.
Throughout the 1980s, the absence of two World Cups stifled the progress of the 1970s. Yet, especially after showing promise on their debut in 1978, he points out that Iran could have been ahead of his current FIFA ranking of 22.
In 2022, Carlos Queiroz’s Iran have the potential to stun Group B. But sadly, his side are in the shadow of political unrest at home which dominates international news.
Should Iran succeed in Qatar and qualify for the knockout stage, it could add fuel to the fire of protests at home.
2022 World Cup Guide
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